Poignant exhibition shows the art of grieving

(Photo: Unsplash/Mark Labrum)

One of the most poignant and moving exhibitions I have ever visited is currently on show at a gallery just north of London. It illustrates for me the importance of the Church's role in funerals and the ministry around them.

It's worth a visit – or a look at the exhibition's website – by anyone involved in supporting the bereaved, or any minister who plans and takes funerals.

'The Art of Grieving', currently running at St Albans Museum and Gallery, features work by a range of artists with a common experience. They are using their art to examine loss and bereavement, and to remember the lives of those they have lost.

Using painting, textiles, sculpture, photography and music, the artists make powerful links with their audience, as together we explore the often-complex pain of separation.

For example, on display is a painting of a ballet dress worn by a daughter who died aged just 11, a pouffe cushion decorated with ties once worn by a dad, and a portrait of another father, with words from his daughter – as recorded in her journal – written across his face.

She recalls "The painting helped me to remember his face and all the things I miss, good and bad."

These are just some of the many artworks that make this exhibition – running until 4 September, with free entry – such an important contribution to how we mark bereavement today. It's especially relevant as so many people emerge, hurting and scarred, from Covid's impact.

Kate Ray, founder of the Art of Grieving, explained, "The exhibition enables artists working in any medium to share work related to this issue. This coming together of artist and audience generates new and important human connections around a shared desire to explore the subject of grief and loss.

"Death is a part of life that is too often ignored or hidden away. At the Art of Grieving we believe it is essential to provide forums for people to come together to connect with their feelings about this issue."

As a Christian minister, I believe every person is unique and special. That's why planning and taking funerals is such a privilege, and why every funeral should be a unique celebration and mourning of the life that has passed.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has set out the importance of the Church's funeral ministry. He said: "It's the grace of God and the gift of God that we're allowed to talk about these things, which spring out of our deep sense of the hope that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that gives us the confidence in handling issues around death and dying and funerals.

"Funeral ministry is so important because we are the Church of England and the Church for England. That's such a privilege, such an extraordinary privilege to be with people towards the end of their lives, when they're dying, to be with their relatives who've been bereaved."

For Christians, funerals are about hope. About belief in a life beyond this one. Jesus's resurrection and his promise of eternal life can bring comfort and hope in the darkness of grief.

In times when people have a breadth of spiritualities, they mourn in all kinds of ways. This exhibition, with a local hospice as the main supporters, shows how art helps many people.

By sharing their craft, their experiences and their pain, the artists have bravely set their journey with grief before each of us. The vulnerability, the rawness of many of the works makes a strong connection with anyone visiting the exhibition.

Many people who visit take time to reflect, pause, and gently connect with the grief that each of us has known ... and to remember the lives of those we have lost. It is a deeply moving experience.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK.